Album: Sky’s The Limit
. . .
On the short list of Prettiest Songs Ever Recorded, Post-Psychedelic Soul Division, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” is proof positive of a brand-new theory I just came up with. You may well ask what it is, this theory of mine.
My theory, which is mine, is that there is a virtuous circle of appreciation that happens between a great cover of a great song, where each time you listen to version, you appreciate the other version even more, so at the end, both versions of the song are basically not just your favorite version of the song, but perhaps the greatest song anybody has ever done ever. For example: “Eight Miles High” and “Eight Miles High, or “Tears of A Clown” and “Tears of a Clown” or “The Train From Kansas City” and “The Train From Kansas City” and “The Train From Kansas City.” That is the theory that I have and which is mine and what it is, too.
And so, to further prove my theory, which is mine (alright, I’ll stop now), we must add “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” which I first heard of course as a 15-year old on the Some Girls album by a little band you might have heard of called The Rolling Stones. Which I love to pieces, of course, but couldn’t be more different from the original Temptations version, which came about only because their seventh straight psychedelic soul single — if you don’t count the Supremes collabs — “Ungena Az Ulimwengu (Unite The World)” failed to make the top 20.
So crazed genius producer Norman Whitfield was all “fine, we’ll go back to your roots,” which was what the Temptations also wanted to do, and proceeded to out-Smokey Smokey Robinson in terms of coming up with a timeless melody line set over billowing a billowing string arrangement. Cloud nine? More like cloud sixty-nine.
Opening with a trembling guitar line over a straight rhythm and the strings from heaven, all five Temptation heave a relieved “ooooooooooh” cos they’re back in the saddle, letting Eddie Kendricks tell the tale of a man who lies to himself.
Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by
I say to myself, “You’re such a lucky guy”
To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true
Out of all the fellows in the world, she belongs to you
Of course, that’s not the case, as Barrett Strong’s lyrics make immediately and painfully true.
But it was just my imagination
Runnin’ away with me
It was just my imagination
Runnin’ away with me
Look. Some of you people have been reading me long enough to know that super lush ballads with this many strings stringing their way through strings strings and more strings are not my jam in any way, shape or form. That’s my string theory. So what is it about this song then, that kills me? Part of it is the harmonies — because with the Temptations, part of it is always about the harmonies — and maybe part of it is how weird and mean and near-stalkery it is, which is mitigated by Eddie Kendricks’s sweet and resigned vocals, so whispery they’re nearly carried away by the strings. Is this what it’s like to have a mental breakdown?
Soon we’ll be married and raise a family (Oh yeah)
A cozy little home out in the country
With two children, maybe three
I tell you I (I, I) can visualize it all
This couldn’t be a dream, for too real it all seems
One thing for sure: the Temptations were having a breakdown. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” was the final single with co-founding members Eddie Kendricks — never really onboard with all of the psychedelic stuff — and Paul Williams, who was having serious personal issues, which might have been why they gave him the opening line on the utterly devastating bridge, where the guy in the song finally comes clean to us.
Ev’ry night on my knees I pray
“Dear Lord, hear my plea
Don’t ever let another take her love from me”
Or I will surely die, hmm
(Her love is) heavenly
When her arms enfold me
I hear a tender rhapsody
But in reality
She doesn’t even know me
The slipping in of the chorus as Kendricks is singing “meeeeeeeeee” is absolutely the musical moment to die for in this song — and it’s such a perfect thing that it’s really the only part of the Temptations arrangement that the Stones stole straight out, the most sublime moment in the most sublime song the Temptations ever did. Or anyone, really.
And it was an absolute smash, of course, topping both the R&B and Pop charts — the third and final Temptations track to pull off that double steal, the other two being “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “My Girl” — making it to #8 on the U.K. charts, as well.
“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” Official Lyric Video
“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) Live on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1971
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